SYSTRA Job Share: National Apprenticeship Week 2019
(Reece Greenstreet/Steve Higham)
When I first heard about the job share between myself and Steve, it was one of initial excitement. I had often seen Steve scurrying away into meeting rooms in both our Newhall Street/Brindley Place project offices and often wondered what sort of things were discussed. I now had a chance to not only see what things were discussed at a business management level but also see what makes a Managing Director tick on a day to day basis.
News had already quickly spread about the job share, many people started approaching me in the office passing comment on how they would have loved an opportunity like this at my age. I later started thinking about what I would like to get out of this day. Steve is a very busy man and to devote a day to impart his knowledge from an accumulation of over 20 years’ worth of experience was asking a lot! The degree that I am studying is in Civil Engineering with particular emphasis on High Speed Rail Infrastructure and whilst Steve is now Managing Director, at heart he is a Civil Engineer so we had some common ground and share a passion and enthusiasm for delivering major engineering infrastructure projects.
THE DAY ARRIVES…
Part of me really wasn’t sure what to expect, when the day came. I woke up, crawled downstairs for breakfast and spoke to my parents about their thoughts on how the day would go. They reassured me saying that if SYSTRA and its employees were really how I portray them at home, I should expect to have a really informative day. Upon arrival to the office, I was greeted with a cheerful “Hello boss” as Steve walked up to my desk. I knew that we had a scheduled MPR (Major Project Review) for two hours in the morning to dissect our progress on the High Speed 2 Civil Engineering project that I am currently working on.
Before the MPR meeting, I joined Steve in a meeting room to get a quick agenda for the day sorted and to also call a member of our bid team to get a heads up on an opportunity we are currently pursuing. Steve encouraged me to ask any question, no matter how basic/complicated it seemed. Everybody has to learn and the sooner you gather your knowledge, the sooner you can progress with your career.
The MPR meeting started and I had been warned that ‘numbers’ would be the order of the day. After approximately forty five minutes, my brain started to become fuzzy! Numbers were being thrown left, right and centre… I started mixing up revenue, cost, forecasts, actuals, cash and so on…. It made me realise how much of a job the project controls team have on a complex project such as HS2. Working closely with the design team on a day to day basis, it is often easy to forget that numbers and finance exist. I see many passionate engineers who want to design the best structure ever to grace the earth, but that would break the bank doing so. It quickly became clear to me that in SYSTRA, success is defined by time, cost and quality; delivering the project on programme and under budget whilst providing innovative designs enabling construction within available funds. We also started the meeting with a safety moment which is something Steve insists across the whole of the engineering business. This gave me a whole new perspective on the role of an engineer and the huge influence that we can have at the start of a project.
Throughout the day I continued to write down notes in my jotter. I was encouraged to ask questions during the meetings but felt that if I asked all the questions that I wanted to know the answers to, the meetings would go on way longer than the length of time they were scheduled for. Anything I had a deep burning urge to ask I did however and left the rest in my jotter for the review at the end of the day. The one thing that stood out to me above all else, was how calm and collected Steve remained throughout the day. Whilst talking about strategic and project critical information, he never raised his voice and yet everybody in the room had a deep underlying respect for Steve and his decisions. There was clearly a high level of trust between Steve and his senior team as everyone was willing to contribute and share alternate views. I observed Steve absorb all the facts before challenging the team on specifics, sometimes allowing the team to debate the issue themselves and sometimes requesting more information, but always ensuring that the decision was ‘best for project’. Definitely a skill which requires refining over a number of years and something that I will work on!
THE END OF DAY REVIEW…
At the end of the day, Steve and I sat down over a coffee and went over how the day had gone from both mine and his perspective. This is when I used my notes to ask questions that I had written down through the day. Steve said that the most crucial thing to being successful is having an A class team working with you, so that you don’t necessarily have to be on top of every minute of every day. You need to be able provide your team with the encouragement to come up with the answers and drive themselves. You need to show them professional respect and if you’re successful, they will bend over backwards to help your team succeed.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Steve for allowing me to spend the day shadowing him and also to Julie Carrier for making this happen. My future at SYSTRA looks to be a bright one with new opportunities being made available to broaden my career. I truly feel part of the SYSTRA family!